Audeze is one of the biggest names in the world when it comes to high-end headphones. Its cans are frequently fliers on “best of” lists, occupying coveted top spots for sound quality and technical performance. Over the last few years, much of its effort has been on filling out its line-up of gaming headphones, but it’s returning to its roots with the headphone we’re looking at today: the MM-500.
Coming in at $1,699, the MM-500 don’t come cheap but offer an impressive listening experience aimed at hardcore audiophiles and dedicated music creators. The engineers at Audeze joined forces with legendary producer, Manny Marroquin, on their design and the result is one of the most enjoyable headphones, and perhaps the most comfortable, it has released yet.
Current Price: $1,699 (Audeze, Amazon)
Audeze MM-500 - First Impressions and Key Features
The MM-500 is the latest mid-tier audiophile headphone from Audeze, a name synonymous with planar magnetic drivers. Having essentially thrust this driver design into mainstream for over-ear headphones, it has earned a massive amount of respect in the audio world and has a pedigree most other companies could only dream of. Based out of California, Audeze is a homegrown, US success story, and its products have received repeated acclaim. When it releases a headphone, the audio community stops and takes notice.
Even with more than a decade of successful headphone releases under its belt, the MM-500 is something unique in its line-up. The engineers at Audeze teamed up with Manny Marroquin, an audio producer who has created music with some of the biggest names in pop going back to Seal and Tony Braxton in the 90s to Justin Beiber, Selena Gomez, and Ed Sheeran in just the last four years.
The MM-500 is designed to take the place of studio monitors for mixing and mastering, removing the room from the equation. It’s designed to be neutral but not lifeless, revealing but not fatiguing. It’s also crafted to be comfortable to wear for extended listening sessions. Put another way, these are headphones you wear when you want accuracy but have enough energy injected into them to make them fun for pleasure listening and gaming too.
The MM-500 also have a unique look to them. Audeze has left the wood-ringed cups to its higher-end models, but there’s a definite step up here coming from the LCD-2. There’s a healthy mix of aluminum and steel in their construction, which adds weight, but definitely makes these feel like one of the best built Audeze headphones — and high-end headphones in general — I’ve tried yet. I also love the style they offer, sleek and minimal, yet very clearly premium and stylish. If you’re hanging out with pop stars, you can’t wear headphones that are less than cool!
The headphones embrace comfort, and that’s no easy feat with their 495 gram weight. They use leather cups with plush foam that cushions their clamp force. They also use a leather suspension band beneath the spring-steel headband to distribute their weight and avoid hot-spotting.
Inside those cups, the headphones use 90mm planar magnetic drivers (planars) held in a double-sided magnet array. Planars use a thin, flat diaphragm that is lined with electrical traces. When electricity is applied, the driver flexes but is held in suspension by the magnet array. This works in contrast to a typical dynamic driver which uses a conical design.
The benefits to a planar magnetic driver can be profound, but as with all things audio, it comes down to subjective preference. Planars are well-known for having ultra-low distortion and fast, low-reaching bass. The way in which Audeze drivers present sound emphasizes clarity and excellent separation between the layers of music and game audio. At their best, they can be very revealing, akin to jumping from standard definition to HD.
The MM-500 also uses Audeze’s Fazor waveguide technology. This system essentially guides sound waves leaving the driver and prevents phase interference, increasing their clarity further. It has been an influential system in the planar headphone industry, and we now see companies like HIFIMAN introducing their own waveguides, ala Stealth Magnets.
The MM-500 is designed with the studio in mind, but I’m no record producer. Instead, I’m just an audio enthusiast who loves music, gaming, tech, and exploring just how fun listening can be with the right gear. I can’t test it in that environment, but what I can say is that these are impressive headphones with a lot to offer even if you’ve never touched a mixing bench.
Audeze MM-500 - Fit and Comfort
The MM-500 are very comfortable headphones. They’re absolutely on the heavy side at 495 grams but the leather headband does a good job of distributing the weight evenly and avoiding hotspots I’ve heard of other listeners experiencing neck pain with headphones at this weight, but I didn’t experience anything of the sort. On the contrary, I’m particularly sensitive to heavy cans (my short hair does little to ward off sore spots), and the MM-500 didn’t cause any discomfort at all even over 2-3 hour listening sessions.
The clamp force on these headphones is a bit higher than I expected. Coming from the LCD-GX and LCD-2 Classic, they’re definitely a bit tighter, but not uncomfortably so. The leather cushions do a good job of mitigating any negative effects of extra clamp for and do a good job of sealing properly around the ear thanks to the wide range of angle adjustment the earcups offer. In comparison to the oval or egg-shaped pads like you might find on many HIFIMAN headphones, the MM-500 effortlessly sealed around my ears, ensuring proper bass presence.
The headphones are also a good fit for intermittent breaks, like you’ll frequently require mixing in a studio or listening to music with other people or little kids at home. Each earcup can pivot to lay flat, allowing you to rest them around your neck. Having to take them off completely may not seem like a big deal, but at this price point, with this design focus, it’s important that they cater to easy use, and Audeze nailed it here.
Audeze MM-500 - Listening Impressions
The Audeze MM-500 are designed for studio use, but that’s hardly the only place they shine. In fact, their tuning is quite fun and I’ve enjoyed listening to a wide range of music. They’re energetic and engaging in pop, hip-hop, and even prog rock and heavy metal. And yes, they’re excellent gaming cans thanks to their wide soundstage and outstanding imaging.
One important thing to note here is that these headphones scale well with additional power. They’re not difficult to drive, but Audeze’s recommendation of at least a 100mW source is sound. That added headroom tightens up the bass and enhances the spatial qualities of the listening experience. For this review, I did most of my listening with the iFi xDSD Gryphon and the Xduoo XD-05 Plus.
Bass: The bass reaches low and has that characteristic Audeze speed and texture. It’s quality over quantity; the bass doesn’t pound, but is instead very full-bodied, wide, and detailed. The tuning leans more heavily into the mid-bass than sub-bass, so the scales tip toward body over rumble, but there’s enough here to make just about any song sound good. The orchestral qualities of NF’s HOPE and The Search come through wonderfully (largely thanks to the interplay between the bass and the higher registers). Even more traditional hip-hop like Church by Tom MacDonald are engaging, full, and fun. For movies and games, they’re more than capable of delivering a cinematic listening experience.
The tuning of the bass really solidifies the balanced tuning Manny Marroquin and Audeze were going for here. There’s enough to nail pop, hip-hop, and even heavy instrumental music, but it’s not overdone where the fun of the listening experience overwhelms their accuracy. If you do crave a bit more bass, the headphones respond very well to moderate EQ adjustments and toggles like the iFi Gryphon’s X-Bass filter.
Mids: The mids, and male vocals in particular, definitely come forward with these headphones. Jonny Craig’s vocal in U.S.S. Regret come right to the forefront, but the excellent layering and separation also highlighted the multiple harmonies playing underneath. Mid centric instruments like guitars are rich in detail, drawing out the oscillations of phases and pads on keyboards. For gaming, this means that teammate callouts and footsteps also pop. There’s just a lot of energy here and that translates through to a more energetic sound overall.
Treble: The treble on this set isn't far reaching, so don’t count on an excess of airiness. At the same time, it’s not sharp or fatiguing and there’s enough treble presence to make instruments, like cymbals, and their overtones sound realistic and engaging. This isn’t a treble first pair of headphones, but I feel like it’s well done overall for the warmer tone these are trying to deliver.
Technical Performance, Soundstage, and Imaging: The technical performance on these headphones is excellent. Starting with soundstage and imaging, there’s exceptional depth to the sound — more so than width, which is also quite good. I don’t think they’re quite as wide as some of Audeze’s even more expensive headphones or competing dynamic headphones from Focal, but they also lack any sense of artificiality. They’re out to impress but not transform what you’re listening to, which is counter what you would look for in a set designed around mixing first and foremost.
The layering, on the other hand, is downright excellent. Audeze and Manny Marroquin have done a tremendous job highlighting every element that goes into a track. It fits with that mixing focus, but even when you’re listening for fun, the soundscape they offer is rich, detailed, and transparent. Deep, textured, fast bass exists alongside mid and treble sounds without seeming to impact them at all. Every instrument and sound source has room to breathe and a specific place on the soundstage.
Gaming: The MM-500 are a particularly good choice for gaming. The spaciousness of the sound is wide enough to create a realistic image without becoming washing and indistinct. The clarity within the soundstage (layering and imaging) creates a holographic effect for positional audio cues. You’ll be able to track enemies from the sides around to the front and back. All stereo headphones lack height information, so you may still want to enable Dolby Atmos for that, but since games tend to telegraph this clearly anyway, I didn’t find it necessary. Pair these with a great microphone and you’ll be an aural force to be reckoned with.
Overall Impressions and Final Thoughts
The Audeze MM-500 is an excellent pair of headphones. They have a “Neutral+” sound tuning that I quite enjoy and are resilient to EQ if you want to touch it up to match your personal taste. They’re expensive, but strike an excellent middle-ground between pure musical and gaming enjoyment and also being an outstanding choice for content creation.
You don’t have to be a music producer. If you’re making YouTube videos or recording podcasts, these headphones will also deliver accuracy you can count on while also being a good fit for the rest of your day. At $1,699, they’re clearly Golden Ears territory and intended for audiophiles and professionals first, but if that describes you, there’s an awful lot to love here, and they leave me excited to see what else might come from this product line in the future.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes. Articles may include affiliate links from which we may earn a small commission to help support the site. Authors do not earn affiliate revenue or commissions.